given on Sunday, January 18, 2009
I must say I have been listening to a broken record this week. As the week began I pulled out the lectionary and saw that today was Human Relations Day. Now my calendar on the wall says it is just the 18th, nothing special. The school calendar says tomorrow is Martin Luther King’s Day and that means no school.
The more I looked at the newspaper, the more I heard on the news, the more I found on the internet, the more I realized that this weekend the topic for today is human relations. The decision on the topic began the search on how to discuss human relations in this world we are living in today.
So why do I feel like a broken record? Well I keep finding that there are certain Bible verses, words and phrases that just keep repeating themselves in all the materials that I read. I began to think that all I had to do for today’s sermon was repeat the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. And I have to admit that those words are the ones that were committed to memory as a young girl in Sunday School. I do not know which translation, and I cannot even tell you the book and verse it comes from without going into a concordance to locate it. The versions do not change the message, though, we just need to love one another.
I feel like I have used these words so many times that you probably think I have not read anything else in the Bible, but I believe that this is the primary principle Jesus gave us: one simple premise that needs to be so engrained in our hearts and souls that we operate on it automatically. This one guideline is the key to living in a world peacefully. This one guideline is the solution to human relations not only worldwide, but inside each and every home, in the schools, in the work place, on the roads, in the stores, in the neighborhoods.
You can see why I feel like a broken record playing over and over the same words and the same idea. By the time I sat down to write out this sermon, I had read so many different resources that the phrase just seemed to be plastered everywhere: love one another.
Tomorrow is an important day for human relations. We do honor Martin Luther King for the work he did to advance civil rights. His story is our story; his work is our work. The words from him are words that Jesus spoke, too. Rev. Dr. King tackled much the same problem that Jesus did. He brought the idea of unconditional love for each person into the worldview as he pleaded with all Americans to treat each person equally regardless of ethnic origin. He pleaded that all Americans should be able to reach the same American dream.
My search into Human Relations Day lead me to the very principles that are found in the historical documents which are fundamental in our country’s archives. The principle of valuing human relations in America is written into almost every document that we value. The Declaration of Independence began the outcry when it stated:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—
We, as Americans, cannot deny the connection between our freedom and God. We cannot deny that we believe that all men and women are created equal.
“Four score and seven years” later, we had to face the horrible truth that we were not treating each man equally. When President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, there is an acceptance that Americans had failed to support that principle as a nation when it had to fight one another rather than love one another. Lincoln referred right back to the Declaration of Independence and the preamble of the Constitution when he so simply stated:
“a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. … (he went on to explain that) we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. ..we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Can you not hear those underlying words that Jesus repeated over and over in his work: love one another? This principle is interwoven into almost every great American principle and it came from God.
This week we are in the middle of change. We begin with Martin Luther King’s Day on Monday, and on Tuesday we will inaugurate the president who is faced with monumental problems we are facing as a country. The irony is that this inauguration almost fulfills the prophetic dreams of Martin Luther King.
In the “I Have a Dream” speech given in 1963, the words first heard in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and again in the Gettysburg address in 1863, are once again spoken:
“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ … we (black Americans) refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. … Now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.”
King’s speech is filled with references to equality, to God, to each other and I hear the underlying message from Jesus that all we have to do is love on another. Human relations do not have to be fragile, they can be as hard as the iron that once made the chains holding the slaves in captivity as long as the human relations are built and maintained with unconditional love. Martin Luther King knew that.
As the nation remembers the words of Martin Luther King, I believe they will hear that message one more time. And on Tuesday, we will witness how America has spoken about equality right now in this century. We have entered into a fourth century when the principles repeated in the historical documents of our heritage are again spoken aloud. I have a prayer that as we watch and listen to the inauguration on Tuesday, we will hear the same tone, the same words, and the same principles that have been written for Americans century after century, for Christians millennium after millennium. Love one another.
The transcript for President-elect Obama’s inauguration speech is not yet available, but I looked back as his acceptance speech given after the popular votes were tallied. I see the words and I hear the hope that connect this century with all the other centuries of our nation, but also with Christianity:
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight (election night) is your answer. … It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled—Americans who sent a message that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue states: we are, and always will be, the United States of America. … once more (bending) toward the hope of a better day.”
The words remind us that human relations are critical in an effort to maintain the very foundation of our country; but I also hear that broken record “love one another” and as I read on through the speech, it just kept repeating and repeating in my head.
When people maintain the dignity of each other, when people practice loving their neighbor, when people fight so that each man has those unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, human relations are preserved and the team work which develops can manage all the difficulties which face each one of us in this earthly world.
As the broken record kept playing in my head this week, I started wondering just how did Jesus’ commandment work outside of this country’s boundaries. Mother Teresa proved it worked, and before her Albert Schweitzer proved it. In fact, the Nobel Peace Prize has annually reminded the world that we should love one another because that leads to peace.
In the presentation speeches given in 1953 and 1979, the lives of these two individuals are outlined. The actions of Dr. Schweitzer and Mother Teresa prove that each individual in this world can be valued. Their lives and their work became proof how Jesus’ commandment works when put into action.
Reading through the two presentation speeches was a testimony that what we have so self-righteously believed was an American premise really is a worldwide premise. In Dr. Schweitzer’s biography a number of descriptive pieces outlined his beliefs:
“Schweitzer … as a boy, (had) deep compassion for every living thing, and the belief that people who live happy lives owe much to those less fortunate and thus have an obligation to help them. “
His story is one almost forgotten by today’s generation, but I remember hearing of his stories treating those in Africa who had no medical treatment. I remember how loving he sounded. In the speech, his life is outlined so carefully showing how his faith affected his life, but it was not until he was 40 that his philosophy was “crystallized” as the speech puts it:
“…while traveling on a river in Africa, he saw the rays of the sun shimmering on the water, the tropical forest all around, and a heard of hippopotamuses basking on the banks of the river. At that moment there came to him, as if by revelation, the phrase that precisely expressed his thought: Reverence for life.”
Dr. Schweitzer had an epiphany, a John Wesley styled Aldersgate moment. The “reverence for life” became his guiding principle; he not only valued people, but all of God’s creation.
Mother Teresa, following in a very similar path only in India, valued life, and oddly enough was directly connected to Dr. Schweitzer in the presentation speech for her Nobel Peace Prize:
“As a description of Mother Teresa’s life’s work, we might selet the slogan that a previous Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Albert Schweitzer, adopted…”Veneration for life”.”
The speech said that in 1979 it was:
“…considered it right and appropriate, precisely in the year, in their choice of Mother Teresa, to remind the world of the words spoken by Fridtjof Nansen (the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize winner): ‘Love of one’s neighbor is realistic policy’.”
Additionally, the speech says:
“… The hallmark of her work has been respect for the individual and the individual’s worth and dignity. … Giving—giving something of oneself—is what confers real joy, and the person who is allowed to give is the one who receives the most precious gifts. … (When others joined her in her work with the poorest of the poor), she said, the first impression is likely a harrowing one. But in the next to no time they are carried away by the atmosphere of serenity and joy.”
The broken record just keeps on playing and playing. Love one another. Disregard all other principles, love one another, respect each man’s dignity, revere life. The words just keep repeating themselves.
Love one another is the one operating principle that each one of us must live by. Love one another in our homes. Love one another in our neighborhoods. Love one another in our jobs. Love one another when we are at play. Love one another when we rub shoulders wherever we go. Love one another when you hear the news each night by offering up a flash prayer that God works in the lives of those in pain.
We may be using a title like “Human Relations Day” or “Martin Luther King’s Day,” but the truth is that every day should be a human relations day to love one another. The broken record is not a broken principle. The Golden Rule is truly golden because it does make us, as we borrow the words from the old spiritual, just like Martin Luther King did, the Golden Rule makes us:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Dear Father of All Humankind,
Today we thank you for your unconditional love. We do hear you and we do hear your commandment to love one another in so many ways. We live in a country where the value of the individual is protected, but there are still those who have not heard your message. Guide each one of us as we work on improving human relations right here in our communities and beyond. May those in leadership know that loving one another is the one sure key to peace in this world. –Amen